We are pleased to announce that we have been shortlisted for three awards at the UK Diversity Legal Awards. For the second year running we are finalists for the Access to Justice award; and we have also been shortlisted for the Law Firm Diversity & Inclusion Initiative award and public law director Ahmed Aydeed is shortlisted for the Black Solicitors Network - BSN Rising Star (Private Practice) award.
The Access to Justice Award recognises initiatives and projects that have provided or improved access to justice for disadvantaged, marginalised, and vulnerable members of UK society. At Duncan Lewis, despite being the largest provider of legal aid services in the UK, we are aware of the growing difficulties many individuals face in accessing the justice they deserve. In the last twelve months alone we have not only provided countless pro bono surgeries and clinics for those that are unable to access justice, but we have actively fought to improve the situation and re-enable access to justice for all by challenging the obstacles generated by the Legal Aid Agency (LAA).
These challenges are perhaps best exemplified by our public law department’s challenge against the LAA. We brought a claim for judicial review of the LAA’s refusal to backdate legal aid certificates. As a direct result of our challenge, the legal aid regulations will confer a discretionary power on the LAA to backdate legal aid determinations to the date on which an application for funding or an amendment to an existing certificate was made.
In addition, we successfully challenged the blanket refusal to provide legal aid funding for judicial reviews where permission was refused on the papers. The result will assist legal aid providers representing some of the most vulnerable in society and should, in turn, enhance access to justice.
The Law Firm Diversity & Inclusion Initiative award recognises an initiative that has made a difference in creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace, with the intention of highlighting best practice for the legal profession. We attract and recruit talent from diverse backgrounds through our tailored Equality and Diversity Policy, which encourages and promotes the recruitment of such talent in an increasingly competitive market.
As a result of following this policy, the outcome of our latest firm-wide diversity survey showed that of those that responded 70% were female, 60% were Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME), and 65% were aged under 35 – a stark contrast to the latest figures released by the SRA which showed that across the UK 79% of lawyers are white and 67% of those are male, demonstrating a lack of diversity in the legal sector.
Ahmed’s shortlisting for the BSN Rising Star (Private Practice) award is further testament to the outstanding work he has carried out this year. Ahmed understands that access to justice is not only being hampered by the hurdles placed by the LAA, but by unhelpful and often unlawful policies. He regularly acts for trafficking and modern slavery victims. His recent challenge to the Home Office’s 45-day support policy for identified victims of trafficking has resulted in the Home Office conceding that their policy was unlawful and incompatible with the Trafficking Convention. This challenge resulted further in the Home Office acknowledging that support should be provided in reference to an individual’s needs rather than by any reference to how long they have received support. Ahmed’s work in this matter has also contributed to his recent shortlisting for the Outstanding Contribution to the Fight Against Slavery award in the Enabling and Supporting Survivors’ Rights and Entitlements category at this year’s Anti-Slavery Day Awards.
It is clear that the work we have carried out as a firm in the last 12 months has had significant beneficial implications both for our individual clients and for access to justice as a whole, with legal aid lawyers being in a stronger position to successfully assist their clients as a direct result of the work we have carried out. Our commitment to diversity and inclusion has enabled us to recruit the best talent available and has resulted in our lawyers being in a position to successfully assist the diverse clients and communities that we serve.
To have our work recognised and praised through our shortlistings is a fantastic achievement and a credit to the dedication, toil, and professionalism demonstrated by all of our lawyers across our offices in England and Wales.
This year’s awards will be taking place in London on Thursday 28th November; we offer huge congratulations to Ahmed and thanks to everybody that has worked hard to ensure that Duncan Lewis Solicitors is in a position to provide access to justice to all.